Space Shuttle Columbia OV-102
Space Shuttle Columbia (NASA Orbiter Vehicle Designation: OV-102) was the first spaceworthy Space Shuttle in NASA's orbital fleet. First launched on the STS-1 mission, the first of the Space Shuttle program, it completed 27 missions before being destroyed during re-entry on February 1, 2003 near the end of its 28th, STS-107. All seven crew members were killed. Following an independent investigation into the cause of the accident, NASA decided to retire the Shuttle orbiter fleet in 2010 in favor of the Constellation program and its manned Orion spacecraft.
Construction began on Columbia in 1975 at Rockwell International's (formerly North American Aviation/North American Rockwell, now Boeing North America) principal assembly facility in Palmdale, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. Columbia was named after the Boston-based sloop Columbia captained by Robert Gray, who in the 1790s explored the Pacific Northwest (including going upstream on its namesake river between Washington and Oregon) and which became the first American vessel to circumnavigate the globe. It is also named after the Command Module of Apollo 11, the first manned landing on another celestial body. After construction, the orbiter arrived at Kennedy Space Center on March 25, 1979, to prepare for its first launch. On March 19, 1981, during preparations for a ground test, two workers were asphyxiated while working in Columbia's nitrogen-purged aft engine compartment, resulting in their deaths.
The first flight of Columbia (STS-1) was commanded by John Young, a Gemini and Apollo veteran who was the ninth person to walk on the Moon in 1972, and piloted by Robert Crippen, a rookie astronaut originally selected to fly on the military's Manned Orbital Laboratory (MOL) spacecraft, but transferred to NASA after its cancellation, and served as a support crew member for the Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz missions.
Columbia was successfully launched on April 12, 1981, the 20th anniversary of the first human spaceflight (Vostok 1), and returned on April 14, 1981, after orbiting the Earth 36 times, landing on the dry lakebed runway at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Columbia then undertook three further research missions to test its technical characteristics and performance. Its first operational mission, with a four-man crew, was STS-5, which launched on November 11, 1982. At this point Columbia was joined by Challenger, which performed the next three shuttle missions, while Columbia underwent modifications for the first Spacelab mission.
Columbia astronauts Thomas K. Mattingly and Pilot Henry Hartsfield salute President Ronald Reagan, standing beside his wife, Nancy, upon landing in 1982.
In 1983, Columbia, under the command of John Young for his sixth spaceflight, undertook its second operational mission (STS-9), in which the Spacelab science laboratory and a six-person crew was carried, including the first non-American astronaut on a space shuttle, Ulf Merbold. After the flight, Columbia spent the next three years at the Rockwell Palmdale facility, undergoing modifications that removed the Orbiter Test Flight hardware and bringing it up to similar specifications as that of its sister Orbiters. At that time the shuttle fleet was expanded to include Discovery and Atlantis.
Columbia returned to space on January 12, 1986, with the launch of STS-61-C. The mission's crew included Dr. Franklin Chang-Diaz, as well as the first sitting member of the House of Representatives to venture into space, Bill Nelson.
The next shuttle mission was undertaken by Challenger. It was launched on January 28, 1986, ten days after STS-61-C had landed. The mission ended in disaster 73 seconds after launch. In the aftermath NASA's shuttle timetable was disrupted, and Columbia was not flown again until 1989 (on STS-28), after which it resumed normal service as part of the shuttle fleet.
STS-93, launched on July 23, 1999, was commanded by Lt. Col. Eileen Collins, the first female Commander of a U.S. spacecraft.
 Prototype orbiter
Columbia launching during STS-1. Columbia's distinctive black chines and "USA" painted on the starboard wing are visible. Columbia was the only orbiter launched with a white external tank.
As the second orbiter to be constructed, yet the first to be able to fly into space, Columbia was roughly 8,000 lb (3,600 kg) heavier than subsequent orbiters such as Endeavour, which were of a slightly different design, and had benefited from advances in materials technology. In part this was due to heavier wing and fuselage spars, the weight of early test instrumentation that remained fitted to the avionics suite, and an internal airlock that, originally fitted into the other orbiters, were later removed for an external airlock to facilitate Shuttle/Mir and Shuttle/International Space Station dockings. This retention of an internal airlock allowed NASA to use Columbia for the STS-109 Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission, along with the Spacehab double module used on STS-107. Had Columbia not been destroyed, it would have been fitted with the external airlock/docking adapter for mission STS-118, an International Space Station assembly mission, in November 2003.
Despite refinements to the launcher's thermal protection system and other enhancements, Columbia would never weigh as little unloaded as the other orbiters in the fleet. The next-oldest shuttle, Challenger, was also relatively heavy, although 2,200 lb (1,000 kg) lighter than Columbia.
Externally, Columbia was the first orbiter in the fleet that originally had a mostly all-tile thermal protection system (TPS) with nomex Fiberous Reuseable Surface Insulation (FRSI) blankets in some areas on the wings and fuselage. This was later modified to incorporate thicker Advanced Fiberous Reuseable Insulation (AFRSI) blankets on the fuselage and upper wing surfaces as well after their successful use on shuttle Discovery and Atlantis. The work was performed during Columbia's first retrofitting and the post-Challenger stand-down. Also unique to Columbia were the black "chines" on the upper surfaces of the shuttle's forward wing. These black areas were added because the first shuttle's designers did not know how reentry heating would affect the craft's upper wing surfaces. The "chines" allowed Columbia to be easily recognized at a distance, as opposed to the subsequent orbiters.
Until its last refit, Columbia was the only operational orbiter with wing markings consisting of an American flag on the port (left) wing and the letters "USA" on the starboard (right) wing. Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, Endeavour, and even the Enterprise all, until 1998, bore markings consisting of the letters "USA" afore an American flag on the left wing, and the pre-1998 NASA "worm" logo afore the respective orbiter's name on the right wing. From its last refit to its destruction, Columbia bore markings identical to those of its operational sister orbiters — the NASA "meatball" logo on the left wing and the American flag afore the orbiter's name on the right; only Columbia's distinctive wing "chines" remained.
Another unique external feature, termed the "SILTS" pod, was located on the top of Columbia's tailfin, and was installed after STS-9 to acquire infrared and other thermal data. Though the pod's equipment was removed after initial tests, NASA decided to leave it in place, mainly to save costs, along with the agency's plans to use it for future experiments. The tailfin was later modified to incorporate the drag chute first used on Endeavour in 1992.
Columbia on the launch pad before its first mission.
Columbia was originally fitted with Lockheed Martin-built ejection seats identical to those found on the SR-71 Blackbird. These seats were active for the four orbital test flights, but were deactivated after STS-4 and were removed entirely after STS-9. Columbia was also the only orbiter not delivered with head-up displays for the Commander and Pilot, although these were incorporated after STS-9. Like its sister ships, Columbia was eventually retrofitted (at its last refit) with the new MEDS "glass cockpit" display and lightweight seats.
After the STS-118 mission, Columbia’s career would have started to wind down. The shuttle was planned to service the Hubble Space Telescope two more times, once in 2004, and again in 2005, but no more missions were planned for it again until 2009 when, on STS-144, it would retrieve the Hubble Space Telescope from orbit and bring it back to Earth. Following the Columbia accident, NASA flew the STS-125 mission, using the Atlantis to perform the final service mission (incorporating the planned fourth and fifth servicing missions), and in the process, installed a "Soft Capture Docking Mechanism," based on the docking adapter to be used on the Orion spacecraft, for an eventual atmospheric reentry and breakup, as this would occur after the retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet in 2010.
Columbia was also scheduled to launch the X-38 V-201 Crew Return Vehicle prototype as the next mission after STS-118, until the cancellation of the project in 2002.
Space Shuttle Columbia flew 28 flights, spent 300.74 days in space, completed 4,808 orbits, and flew 125,204,911 miles (201,497,772 km) in total, including its final mission.
Columbia was the only shuttle to have been spaceworthy during the Shuttle-Mir and International Space Station programs and yet to have never visited either Mir or ISS. In contrast, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour have all visited both stations at least once, as Columbia was not suited for high-inclination missions. Challenger was destroyed before the Shuttle-Mir Program began, and Enterprise never flew in space.
# Date Designation Launch pad Landing location Notes
1 1981, April 12 STS-1 39-A Edwards Air Force Base First shuttle mission. Launch witnessed by the band Rush; inspired the song "Countdown" on their 1982 album Signals.
2 1981, November 12 STS-2 39-A Edwards Air Force Base First re-use of manned space vehicle
3 1982, March 22 STS-3 39-A White Sands Space Harbor First mission with an unpainted External tank.
Only time that a space shuttle has landed at the White Sands Space Harbor. This launch was dedicated by Ronald Reagan to "the people of Afghanistan".
4 1982, June 27 STS-4 39-A Edwards Air Force Base Last shuttle R&D flight
5 1982, November 11 STS-5 39-A Edwards Air Force Base First four-person crew, first deployment of commercial satellite.
6 1983 November 28 STS-9 39-A Edwards Air Force Base First six-person crew, first Spacelab.
7 1986, January 12 STS-61-C 39-A Edwards Air Force Base Representative Bill Nelson (D-FL) on board/ final successful shuttle flight before Challenger disaster
8 1989, August 8 STS-28 39-B Edwards Air Force Base Launched KH-11 reconnaissance satellite
9 1990, January 9 STS-32 39-A Edwards Air Force Base Retrieved Long Duration Exposure Facility
10 1990, December 2 STS-35 39-B Edwards Air Force Base Carried multiple X-ray & UV telescopes
11 1991, June 5 STS-40 39-B Edwards Air Force Base 5th Spacelab - Life Sciences-1
12 1992, June 25 STS-50 39-A Kennedy Space Center U.S. Microgravity Laboratory 1 (USML-1)
13 1992, October 22 STS-52 39-B Kennedy Space Center Deployed Laser Geodynamic Satellite II
14 1993, April 26 STS-55 39-A Edwards Air Force Base German Spacelab D-2 Microgravity Research
15 1993, October 18 STS-58 39-B Edwards Air Force Base Spacelab Life Sciences
16 1994, March 4 STS-62 39-B Kennedy Space Center United States Microgravity Payload-2 (USMP-2)
17 1994, July 8 STS-65 39-A Kennedy Space Center International Microgravity Laboratory (IML-2)
18 1995, October 20 STS-73 39-B Kennedy Space Center United States Microgravity Laboratory (USML-2)
19 1996, February 22 STS-75 39-B Kennedy Space Center Tethered Satellite System Reflight (TSS-1R)
20 1996, June 20 STS-78 39-B Kennedy Space Center Life and Microgravity Spacelab (LMS)
21 1996, November 19 STS-80 39-B Kennedy Space Center 3rd flight of Wake Shield Facility (WSF)/ longest Shuttle flight as of 2006
22 1997, April 4 STS-83 39-A Kennedy Space Center Microgravity Science Laboratory (MSL)- cut short
23 1997, July 1 STS-94 39-A Kennedy Space Center Microgravity Science Laboratory (MSL)- reflight
24 1997, November 19 STS-87 39-B Kennedy Space Center United States Microgravity Payload (USMP-4)
25 1998, April 13 STS-90 39-B Kennedy Space Center Neurolab - Spacelab
26 1999, July 23 STS-93 39-B Kennedy Space Center Deployed Chandra X-ray Observatory
27 2002, March 1 STS-109 39-A Kennedy Space Center Hubble Space Telescope service mission (HSM-3B)
28 2003, January 16 STS-107 39-A Did not land (Planned to land at Kennedy Space Center) A multi-disciplinary microgravity and Earth science research mission. Shuttle destroyed during re-entry on February 1, 2003 and all seven astronauts on board died.
 Mission insignias
Mission insignia for Columbia flights
Sts9 flight insignia.svg
STS-107 Flight Insignia.svg
 Final mission and destruction
George W Bush Columbia FINAL.ogg
George W. Bush's address on the Columbia's destruction, February 1, 2003.
Main article: Space Shuttle Columbia disaster
Columbia was destroyed at about 0900 EST on February 1, 2003 while re-entering the atmosphere after a 16-day scientific mission. The Columbia Accident Investigation Board determined that a hole was punctured in the leading edge on one of Columbia's wings, made of a carbon-carbon composite. The hole had formed when a piece of insulating foam from the external fuel tank peeled off during the launch 16 days earlier and struck the shuttle's wing. During the intense heat of re-entry, hot gases penetrated the interior of the wing, destroying the support structure and causing the rest of the shuttle to break apart. The nearly 84,000 pieces of collected debris of the vessel are stored in a 16th floor office suite in the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center. The collection was opened to the media once and has since been open only to researchers.
The shuttle's final crew was honored in 2003 when the USGS's Board of Geographic Names approved the name Columbia Point for a 13,980-foot (4,260 m) mountain in Colorado's Sangre de Cristo Mountains, less than a half-mile from Challenger Point, a peak named after America's other lost shuttle. The Columbia Hills on Mars were also named in honor of the crew, and a host of other memorials were dedicated in various forms.
Fans of the original Star Trek television series were largely responsible for NASA naming the first Space Shuttle Enterprise. In the television series Star Trek: Enterprise both the first and second starships of the human-built NX-Class, registry numbers NX-01 & NX-02 respectively, were named in honor of pre-existing NASA space shuttles. The second vessel's name was first revealed in the season 3 episode "E˛" to be Columbia, in honor of the space shuttle Columbia following its destruction on February 1, 2003. Uniforms on NX-02 Columbia bear a crew patch depicting 7 stars, in honor of the astronauts who died in the shuttle accident.